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Jax: Officials hope to tap Brooklyn's potential

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From the June 11, 2004 print edition

Officials hope to tap Brooklyn's potential

Beth Slater


BROOKLYN -- A new freeway exit will open up the Downtown district of Brooklyn, and the Jacksonville Economic Development Council is trying to come up with a blueprint for growth in the area.

More traffic should enter Brooklyn when a new Interstate 95 exit is completed at Forest Street. Construction of the $180 million project will go to bid in July and begin after the Super Bowl as part of Florida Department of Transportation's I-95/Interstate 10 interchange reconstruction. It's a four- to five-year project, said Mike Goldman, FDOT public information officer.

Jean Moyer, JEDC chief of communications, said it is too soon to determine what kind of impact the Forest Street exit will have on Brooklyn, but "it's going to be one of the main gateways to Downtown."

The exit will make the neighborhood more accessible, said Oliver Barakat, a senior commercial real estate agent with CB Richard Ellis in Jacksonville. "Most people don't know Brooklyn even exists; they just drive by on Riverside Avenue," he said. "It will force them to drive through the neighborhood. It will give the neighborhood excellent ingress and egress to I-95 and will elevate the neighborhood."

Brooklyn, best known for its corporate towers along Riverside Avenue, extends from McCoy's Creek in the north to I-10 on the west and I-95 to the south. Miles Price, a Confederate veteran, platted the area in 1868.

"The value there is not in the buildings," Barakat said. "The land, at the end of the day, and the grid pattern Brooklyn has, that's where the value is. Brooklyn has a lot of narrow streets and an old-city feel. It has excellent potential for residential and commercial use."

That potential is the focus of JEDC's Brooklyn Riverside Avenue District Study. Its findings will be released this fall along with results from a similar study completed last year in LaVilla.

The study is the first of its kind for Brooklyn, Moyer said.

"Brooklyn was part of the Downtown Master Plan preliminary studies," she said. Also Jacksonville engineering company Reynolds, Smith & Hills Inc. did a study on McCoy's Creek, and River City Renaissance, headed by former Mayor Ed Austin, looked at Brooklyn. But "this is the first study exclusively for the Brooklyn area."

The study has three phases, Moyer said: explore possible design solutions, decide on a plan and reach consensus on the area's development.

Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, a consultancy hired by the Downtown Development Authority, began gathering input in early May with focus groups and a public meeting. A summary memorandum lists participants' opinions of the good and bad qualities of Brooklyn and visions of what it could become.

The area's advantages are cleared land ready for development, access to the interstates, proximity to Downtown and Riverside, McCoy's Creek and available public programs, such as the Empowerment and Enterprise zones.

Brooklyn got bad points, however, for a lack of retail and services, lack of identity and lack of building occupants. Difficult land assemblies and a perception of crime were also listed.

A theme of all the visions of future Brooklyn was a mixed-use transitional area: Retail space below residential buildings, affordable housing, a Skyway line to Brooklyn and Riverside and using Park Street as a spine for the area.

The focus groups included city staff, Downtown planning groups, residential and commercial developers and real estate agents and the Brooklyn Neighborhood Association.

Commercial development keeps Riverside Avenue busy while the rest of Brooklyn is quiet.

Riverside Avenue is the home of Fidelity National Financial Inc., The Haskell Co., Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida Inc. and the year-old, 140,000-square-foot St. Joe Co. headquarters.

The Marks Gray law firm will join the Riverside lineup when it moves its offices to Brooklyn. Originally included in the Downtown Master Plan, the firm has expanded on its previous 58,000-square-foot design.

Nick Pulignano, a Marks Gray partner, said the firm owns land on Riverside between Dora and Jackson streets and now plans to build a 100,000-square-foot office.

"Originally we had the building on Dora Street and it was fully designed and permitted," Pulignano said. "Now we're having it redesigned and moved to Jackson Street. We have a new joint venture partner and we need to make the building bigger."

The firm hasn't settled on a new design, Pulignano said, but the building will have two levels of parking below four levels of office space. Marks Gray is now in the Stein Mart building on the Southbank.

"We're in Downtown now," Pulignano said. "Brooklyn is part of the Enterprise Zone and in Downtown. We want to stay in Downtown is our philosophy."

The next public meeting on the Brooklyn Riverside Avenue District Study will be 7 p.m., June 24, at the Haskell Building, 111 Riverside Ave.

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This is very good news! I'll admit, I was one of those people who used to say "I thought Brooklyn was in New York". The new exit ramp will really help define the area. I think that when they start planning the streetscaping, they should include Brooklyn banners on the lamp posts. With a logo and all. I sure hope that alot of mix-use development will come in. With the right development, Brooklyn may become one of those "destination" places to go. I just wish it wouldn't take 5 years, lol.

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